Researching food production in Alaska
Meriam Karlsson's research focuses on greenhouse and controlled environment crop production and resource management in commercial greenhouses.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks horticulture professor has studied a diverse array of flowers and vegetables to see under what conditions they grow best. Because of the current interest in food crops and the short growing season, much of her work concerns greenhouse food production.
Cucumbers and tomatoes grow successfully in Alaska greenhouses, and Karlsson believes that bell peppers could be another potential commercial crop. For the past three years, she has researched the best methods for growing them. The plants are commonly trellised, with two lateral branches. Karlsson looked at how pruning the branches affected the production on six cultivars of red, orange and yellow peppers.
This past summer, she and a research assistant thinned blossoms on three varieties of peppers to see if they could get a more uniform fruit load and more consistent production.
Many Alaskans believe that vegetables grown in the state are sweeter than those grown elsewhere. As part of a state agricultural grant, Karlsson is also looking at the nutrition of locally produced vegetables compared to imported vegetables in grocery stores.
In particular, she is analyzing the sugar and mineral content in different varieties of tomatoes, peppers, romaine and leaf lettuce, cucumbers and kale. She grew some of the produce in greenhouses and some was purchased from farmers markets.
The mineral results are not available yet, but Karlsson said preliminary results show that compared to vegetables from Outside, the sugar values of tomatoes and peppers, in particular, are significantly higher in produce grown in the university greenhouse or purchased from the farmers market.
“It’s looking like Alaska grown has, as we expected, higher sugar content,” she said. “And now we have the supporting data.” Karlsson plans to repeat and expand the experiment this coming summer.